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The weekend switch could mean UAE hotels will find it easier to put together packages for Saudi travellers. Above, a Saudi Arabian family drinks hot chocolate at a cafe in Dubai. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
The weekend switch could mean UAE hotels will find it easier to put together packages for Saudi travellers. Above, a Saudi Arabian family drinks hot chocolate at a cafe in Dubai. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

Saudi weekend switch welcomed

Saudi weekend: Saudi Arabia's switch to a Friday-Saturday weekend from Thursday-Friday to bring it in line with the rest of the GCC region could be beneficial for the travel business, according to analysts.

Saudi Arabia's switch to a Friday-Saturday weekend could be a big boon for the hotels and malls across the Emirates.

The Saudi Arabian market is the most important regionally to the UAE, from both a business and a leisure travel point of view.

"It's huge because most Saudis come in family sizes of six to eight and 10, in addition to individual travellers," said Premjit Bangara, the travel manager of Sharaf Travel.

The kingdom, for example, is Sharjah's largest feeder market, with 195,000 visitors last year, a rise of 96 per cent on 2011 figures. The emirate upped its presence at the Riyadh Travel Fair this year in a bid to attract even more tourists.

But other emirates are also courting Saudi Arabia more, such as Ras Al Khaimah, which sent a delegation to the travel exhibition for the first time this year. Gaurav Sinha, a UAE-based travel industry analyst, said the weekend switch could mean hotels here will find it easier to put together packages for Saudi travellers.

"I think the alignment of the weekend definitely lends itself for better synchronicity, especially with regards to developing relevant weekend holiday packages or even just business travel," said Mr Sinha, who is the founder and managing director of Insignia.

However, Mr Bangara warned some hotels could also lose out because the bookings they used to get from Saudi nationals for Thursdays will transfer to Fridays, when hotels already tend to be busy.

Nevertheless hotels may also view the change as an opportunity to raise room rates on weekends.

"This market is very driven by supply and demand like most markets are in the world and that is what I see [happening] next," said Mr Bangara.

"I think by logic they will have a weekend surcharge because of the sheer volumes that are coming from Saudi Arabia."

Ajay Nair, the head of corporate travel and sales for anta.GlobalStar, in Dubai, said airlines would also benefit from the switch.

For their part, hotels expect the change to have a positive impact. Omer Kaddouri, the executive vice presidentof Rotana Hotel Management company, said that from a tourism perspective in the UAE, "we are expecting a positive impact on both, leisure and business segments".

The kingdom continued to provide "a significant percentage of the overall visitor numbers to us and the first quarter of 2013 saw 30 per cent more visitors from Saudi Arabia, which is the number one source market for us", he added.

"This announcement will bring the kingdom's working week in line with the rest of countries and will increase the interface with the rest of the world, especially for the UAE as instead of having just three working days aligned, now we will have most of the working week. We believe that this decision is a great benefit for the economy."

Etihad Airways said it would review its market and adjust as required. "Etihad Airways will continue to operate its existing frequencies to and from Saudi Arabia," the carrier said. Etihad operates 43 flights weekly from Abu Dhabi to Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh. Emirates Airline, which operates 69 flights a week from Riyadh, Dammam, Medina and Jeddah, had a similar tack.

The Dubai-based carrier said it was aware that changes in the kingdom's working week were expected and had been planning accordingly. "While our flight schedule will remain unchanged for the time being, adjustments will be made to staff working hours to ensure continuity of service to customers," the airline said. The Sharjah-based budget airline Air Arabia, which offers 88 weekly flights from Sharjah and Alexandria in Egypt to eight destinations in Saudi Arabia, is not changing schedules following the change in the Saudi weekend. Currently, Air Arabia operates 28 flights to the kingdom on Fridays and Saturdays.

The regional retail sector also stands to benefit, a trade body has predicted. The Middle East Council of Shopping Centres said that the switch from this coming weekend would boost shopping spending across the region and help to reduce costs as retailers synchronised their hours.

"We think this is a great move for all GCC countries to have the same weekend days, which is in the best interests of everyone," said David Macadam,the chief executive and vice chairman of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres, which represents the shopping centre industry in the Middle East and North Africa.

In many major Middle Eastern cities, shopping centres stay open until 10pm on weekdays, close at midnight at weekends and stay open for 24 hours during public holidays. However, with different countries working to different working weeks and holidays, and a growing trend for GCC nationals to go on shopping breaks abroad, shopping centre operators have struggled to know when best to extend opening hours.

"This change can mean that Saudi nationals on holiday in the Gulf can shop for longer," Mr Macadam said.

"We see this more as a cost reduction exercise for retailers," said Kristian Syson, a director at Cluttons' Bahrain office who overseas operations in Saudi Arabia.

"Retailers will be able to staff up at peak times more easily. It will also be much easier for international companies who have to deal with offices elsewhere in the globe, meaning that they will be able to communicate over four days rather than just three at present."





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